State Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, got a lot of attention Wednesday. And it wasn't for his skills as a comedian.
The senator, who represents my hometown and ancestral homeland, did open a speech on the Senate floor with a joke. Some said it wasn't funny. But I didn't think it was that bad.
To paraphrase, a cop stops a juggler on his way to a gig. The cop sees a bunch of knives in the back seat and asks the juggler what's up. The juggler says he juggles knives. The cop says get out and prove it.
While the juggler juggles, a guy drives by and says, "Sure glad I quit drinking and driving. Just look at the sobriety tests they make you take now."
See, not so bad. Mildly amusing, even. And then, of course, the senator went on to talk about the trouble with gays.
"Tomorrow is the day of dialogue: a day when students in high school and college are encouraged to have open dialogue about the questions of life and relationships. I care about children, and I would be remiss not to give a questioning youth who is searching to know about relationships a full and balanced perspective.
I hope that you will hear what I have to say today in the spirit of dialogue. Milton Friedman once said, "A society that puts equality ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom." The cultural debate on same-sex relationships has not been one of fair discussion, one where the pros and cons are calmly considered. In the name of equality, such a discussion has been stifled, sidelined and just plain blocked in what appears to be an effort to sway public opinion.
The media, for the most part, has [sic] bamboozled us into thinking that having a relationship outside of the boundaries of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is positive, happy and fulfilling. Movies, television shows, articles and magazines abound with this theme, giving partial information to a vulnerable and impressionable audience: our children.
The question is asked: how does a same-sex relationship hurt you? The implication within this question is that one worries he will be hurt physically or emotionally. Of course that won't happen literally, so one is left to feel foolish and shameful. This is not honest communication. Rather, it is a way of jamming the mental circuits so that we do not think of the consequences of a lifestyle that is outside the committed bonds of a one-man, one-woman marriage."
Guth went on to compare the societal damage done by homosexuality to the damage done by second-hand smoke, citing higher rates of STDs, health risks, psychological problems, suicide, etc. He spoke his mind, which is, of course, his right. Then a lot of others spoke theirs.
To be fair, Guth spoke some truth. The dialogue over marriage equality has not been fair. And one major reason is that his side brings arguments like this.
For one thing, it's difficult to regard a guy who has lived on the same farm north of Klemme nearly all of his life as a credible expert on the complexities of human sexuality. I grew up just 17 miles away, and I'm still not an expert.
And even if you try, it's tough to reconcile Guth's worries about STDs and emotional health with his crusade to outlaw the sort of committed, stable marital relationships for same-sex couples that would conceivably address both issues. Guth claims to lament the tolls taken by society's historic inability to accept gays and lesbians, while also demanding that it continue.
Guth is trying oh-so-politely to reduce their human identity to a sex act. That used to an effective tactic. But now, outside of Klemme, and quite possibly inside, more and more people have come to see gays and lesbians as family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, elected leaders, etc. And seeing them as individuals makes it a lot tougher to treat them as second-class citizens, as Guth prescribes.
To Guth, this is all media spin. To many of the rest of us, it's reality. Guth is desperate for the old stereotypes and fears to take hold again, but it's too late. Support for marriage equality has quickly become a new sobriety test in politics, especially for young voters. No joke, senator.
As a somewhat older voter and, like Guth, a rural North Iowa native, his speech also made me wonder how it was I came to such a different view.
There was no lightning strike. But I do remember watching the Iowa House debate and pass a measure barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the state civil rights code. It was 1989, and I was an 18-year-old House page.
It's been 24 years, so my memory is hardly photographic. Thanks to online archives, I now know, again, that it was House File 351, which passed 57-41 on March 29, 1989.
As a small town kid, this was not an issue on my radar. But I remember finding the arguments for equality very persuasive. I remember finding the folks marching, chanting and holding signs in the rotunda that said "God Created Adam and Eve Not Adam and Steve" to be angry and much less persuasive. And I recall that when the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Tom Jochum, D-Dubuque, stood up to give closing remarks before the final vote, the usually raucous House chamber went dead silent. This, I gathered, was important.
But not important enough, apparently, for the Senate to take up. It eventually did become law. In 2007. And Justice Alito is worried about a rush to equality.
I actually tracked down an old Associated Press account of the 1989 debate:
"Critics told stories of being accosted by homosexuals as youngsters, raised the specter of homosexuals preying on school children and quoted the Bible during an emotional debate," the AP wrote.
"We recognize that everybody in this state has some basic rights," Jochum said.Sounds familiar. I think it's pretty clear, over time, which argument has carried the day. We've been bamboozled for the better, I say.